Networking should be fun, like eating chocolate. Here are a few hints.
1) Job Shadowing — Imagine you’re interested in taking a job in another office at your agency. But you’d like to test the waters before you make the big leap. Shadowing the leaders in that office is a great way to learn about the organization and the job you are interested in. Most federal agencies have a formal or informal job shadowing program. In many cases most senior executives in these agencies are open to being shadowed by employees who are eager to learn about the their vision for your agency. Shadowing is also a good way to learn whether you like the people who work in your “target” organization. When a job opens in that department, you’ll have a leg up against many other candidates if the managers in the organization are impressed with you’re enthusiasm.
2) University Alumni Connections — If you’re interested in moving from one agency to another agency, what better way to learn about that agency than by talking to alumni of the university you attended. Even if you’re university doesn’t have many events in your city, you can find out from your university and from social networking sites which alumni work at your agency. Use these resources to your advantage, then approach these alumni with your questions about what it’s like to work at these agencies.
3) Clubs – Joining clubs related to YOUR OWN INTERESTS is a great way to meet people who can help you advance in your government career. Love bowling? You can bet there are other government employees who do too. If you share a passion with a potential networking contact, that makes making the connection that much easier. Professional organizations related to your career are great, but nothing is better than meeting people through your passion.
4) Old supervisors and colleagues — Loved your colleagues or supervisors at your old job? Keep in touch with them. Have lunch your favorite colleagues regularly. This is a great way to learn about opportunities you didn’t realize you were looking for. So make it your mission to use the buddy system. Remember, it’s not about learning what they have to give you, it’s about learning what YOU can give to them. Then when you least expect it, they are looking to help you.
5) Prepare your dream job “pitch” — If you know what type of job you want to do, and you’re not doing it, keep your eyes peeled for an opportunity to “create” that job for yourself. If a former colleague or supervisor liked your work in another job, that supervisor may be willing to hire you to solve a problem if you make the case that you are the best person to do it, and no one else is doing this job. Work portfolios are great for this. If you have a portfolio you can give to your colleague/former supervisor, that colleague can use it to sell you to his supervisors and the supervisors that report to him.
6) See reorganization as an opportunity — A fact of life is that government organizations are always reorganizing. Even Flavius Josephus complained about reorganizations during the Roman Empire. If your office has been reorganized into a new organization, take a leading role in implementing those changes, if possible. That shows leadership and puts you in a position to move to your next perch when another position opens. If you’re reorganized to a job that doesn’t fit your skill or qualifications, your resume will speak to that. This is where your portfolio comes in handy again. Talk to your senior supervisor about the qualification mismatch. When you go into the supervisor’s office, show your portfolio to the supervisor. Oftentimes, these supervisors will be sympathetic with your position, because if you can’t do the job you were put in, you’re dead weight on the organization. If the supervisor is high enough, he/she probably has a personal relationship with the senior supervisor in the office where you want to work, and just needs to make one call to start get the ball rolling.
7) Know the language of your “target” — every office has it’s own culture and jargon. Use every resource you have access to learn that jargon and the important issues that are confronting that office. When it comes time to interview for the job you want, the interview panel will be impressed.
8) Keep track of your contacts — If you’re making a lot of friends at work and your activities outside of work, you can easily lose track of who you met, where you met that person and why that person is important to you. Even worse, you may not be able to find that person’s contact information when you need it. It’s fact of life, you need to put technology to your advantage to manage information. Some people use 3 x 5 index cards to manage contacts, others use their iPhones, or Excel spreadsheets. It may even be useful to create a “visualization” of your contacts on a piece of construction paper. Visualizations are great because they help you see not just who you know, but also potential links between people in your life. You may think: “Hmmm. Joe and Fred would probably work well together. I should probably introduce them to each other. Anyway you do it that works for you, you need to do it.
9) Help your contacts — I said it before and I’ll say it again. If you want your contacts to help you, you need to help them. Listen to their concerns and help them where you can. Sometimes that may mean forwarding them articles that are of interest to them. Other times it may mean, putting them in touch with people that can help them achieve their goals, whether they are professional or personal.
10) Volunteer for non-work projects — If your office is like many other government offices, it likes to celebrate: the holidays in December, the arrival of spring, birthdays, retirements, promotions, you name it. These are the types of non-work projects you want to volunteer for. This is a good way to meet people you might not otherwise meet. Other types of activities that are great for this are Combined Federal Campaign events, awards ceremonies and recruiting events. If your agency has a professionals network volunteer to be an officer. If it doesn’t then volunteer to start it.
11) Learn about your leaders — All the senior executives at your agency should have bios posted on the agency’s internal website. Read them. Know them. Love them. Understanding their background is a good way to make conversation with them should you run into them unexpectedly. If you attended the same university as the leader then you’ve struck gold. You could talk with that leader for hours.
12) Write articles for agency publications — Every agency has some type of internal or external publication. You have some type of expertise or knowledge that would be of interest to either the employees or the public who reads the publications your agency distributes to them. Volunteer to write an article for this publication. It will cement your expertise and help get you known in your agency. It’s also great for your portfolio.